We were there about ten minutes when a 4.7 came along and buried the lot of us.
Like so many other young men and women serving in far distant lands, some not really understanding the reason why they are there in the first place, I want to make mention of one of these young men who took his place marching off to war, not knowing how his destiny would unfold. The year was 1914 and an eighteen year old boy joined the gunnery regiment and by the time his 19th birthday came around, he was in the trenches of the battlefields of France.
Maybe during the cold nights in trenches or tents, young minds might wander back through the years and question their choice of becoming a part of a nation’s military. I’m sure he must of as well. Growing up in his small town, he was looked upon as something special, a life endowed with great personality, a strong will, tremendous ability, lots of brains and determination. He had big ideas and tremendous athletic ability, so much so, in fact, that in one of his favourite sports, he was invited to the spring training camp of the Boston Red Sox baseball club. Yet, there he was, in the trenches in France and like so many of our other boys and girls in uniform, risked life and limb. In his case, it was “limb” and in a letter to his father, he described his horrible experience.
He wrote, “On the 16th of June our battery was being shelled heavily with 12” shells. Two guns were hit and twenty of our gunners wounded. The remembrance is so horrible that I nearly lose my head on the thought of it. The major soon gave orders to leave the guns. Four of the boys rushed to a dugout about 50 feet distant, where we found five other machine gun fellows. We were there about ten minutes when a 4.7 came along and buried the lot of us. I was the only one that survived, the other eight being killed. I just came to as they were shovelling me out of the mud. The boys carried me to a dressing station, where they gave me a drink of brandy and that made me feel easier. They took me to the clearing station about 8 o’clock that night, as I was wounded quite badly, having two wounds in head, three in chest, three in left arm, one in right arm, four in left leg, two in right leg, shot through left ear, end of toe shot off, one finger broken, two bones in left foot broken, small pieces (shrapnel) in face, my right arm, leg and side paralysed, and I was stone deaf, so I surely had my share.
I laid in the clearing station nine days before they could move me. I was then taken to Boulogne, where three operations were performed, the one on the head being one of the largest operations undertaken during the war. Three pieces of my skull have been taken out, one piece being as large as a silver dollar. My head was cut up pretty bad. I had three rubber tubes running through me for a month and had a splint on my leg for eight weeks. God knows how I suffered. They had to feed me on brandy, to keep me alive, and for a whole month I never slept as the pain was so great. I was used fine in the hospital. They did everything that they could for me, of course, but I have lost weight something terrible. My legs are just like broom handles. I get them massaged for an hour every day and it will be another month before I can possibly walk. I can’t stand, as one of my feet has dropped and it will take some time to get it up. My wounds have all healed, but I am still troubled with fearful headaches.”
War is really “Hell”. Yet, this young man was just one of tens of thousands who had their lives turned upside down. At least in the two world wars, they and those of us at home had a sense of why we were fighting; so honouring once a year their bravery, along with the greater sacrifice of those who gave their lives in defence of freedom, was a solemn, thankful and comforting remembrance. They returned home to great celebrations.
Poppies flourished on the battlefields of First World War France and Belgium amid the mud and death and inspired John McCrae’s famous poem
But today, for some reason, unless a family member has sacrificed, there doesn’t appear to be the same degree of appreciation from the populace as a whole for dead and wounded of the subsequent wars, particularly those in this twenty-first century so far. Yet, the sacrifices are just as real and those who have given their lives or live with disabilities are our heroes just as much as those from the world wars.
It was King George V who set a day of remembrance for members of the armed forces who were killed during World War I and this was extended to future war fatalities and maimed. The red poppy became the symbol of our remembrance because of the poem “In Flanders Fields”. One stanza of that poem throws out a challenge to future generation. It says:
Take up the quarrel with the foe
To you, from falling
hands we throw
The torch – be yours to
hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep though
In Flanders fields
So, Colonel McCrea, the author, who died in battle the day after writing his poem, beseeched us not to break faith with those who died, but could also have pleaded for those who came back wounded. We may not like the wars we have encountered since WW2 and there is good reason for those who believed these wars were politically or economically motivated. Yet, the sacrifices by tens of thousands of men and women deserve our gratitude and eternal thanks. So, on this Remembrance Day when we express our appreciation for those who sacrificed, let’s include all of them in our special prayers. Like the young man I mentioned earlier in this article, who went to war in 1914, they are all uncommon champions.